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General Information

142 General Information

142.1 Opportunities in Pharmacy†

    The practice of pharmacy has grown from the compounding and dispensing of drugs to a “knowledge system” about drugs and drug products. Pharmacy practice has increasingly become oriented to the patient and accordingly requires the aspiring pharmacist to possess excellent communication skills and to be aware of, and sensitive to, the frequent need for compassion and understanding. Various career options are open to the pharmacist on graduation and licensure.

Community Pharmacy and Consultant Pharmacists

    Nearly everyone is familiar with community pharmacists and the pharmacy in which they practice. You probably visit the community pharmacist more often than you do any other member of the health team. Pharmacists talk to people when they are healthy and when they are sick; when they are seeking immunizations, such as the influenza vaccine; when they are "just browsing" or when they are concerned with an emergency; when they have specific needs as well as when they are seeking advice or information. Pharmacists are playing an increasing role in the "wellness" movement, especially through counseling about preventive medicine.

    Pharmacists serve patients and the community by providing information and advice on health, providing medications and associated services, and by referring patients to other sources of help and care, such as physicians, when necessary. Likewise, advances in the use of information technology in pharmacy practice now allow pharmacists to spend more time educating patients and maintaining and monitoring patient records. As a result, patients have come to depend on the pharmacist as a health care and information resource of the highest caliber. Pharmacists, in and out of the community pharmacy, are specialists in the science and clinical use of medications. They must be knowledgeable about the composition of drugs, their chemical and physical properties, and their manufacture and uses, as well as how products are tested for purity and strength. Additionally, a pharmacist needs to understand the activity of a drug and how it will work within the body. More and more prescribers rely on pharmacists for information about various drugs, their availability, and their activity, just as patrons do when they ask about nonprescription medications.

    If pharmacists develop a desire to combine their professional knowledge and skills with the challenge of the fast-moving community pharmacy practice, they will often consider a management position within a chain pharmacy practice or ownership of their own pharmacy. In chain practice, career paths usually begin at the store level with possible subsequent advancement to a position at the district, regional, or corporate level. Many chain companies have management development programs in marketing operations, legal affairs, third party programs, computerization, and pharmacy affairs. The spirit of entrepreneurship and motivation has enabled many pharmacists to successfully own their own pharmacies or, through establishing consultation services, to function independently.

Hospitals and Other Institutional Settings

    As society's health care needs have changed and expanded, there has been an increased emphasis on provision of care through organized health care settings. As a result, an increased number of pharmacists now practice in hospitals, nursing homes, extended care facilities, neighborhood health centers, and primary care networks. As members of the health care team composed of physicians and nurses, among others, pharmacists have an opportunity for direct involvement with patient care. The knowledge and clinical skills that the contemporary pharmacist possesses make this individual an authoritative source of drug information for physicians, nurses, and patients. In addition to direct patient care involvement, pharmacists in hospitals are responsible for systems which control drug distribution and are designed to assure that each patient receives the appropriate medication, in the correct form and dosage, at the correct time. Hospital pharmacists maintain records on each patient, using them not only to fill medication orders but also to screen for drug allergies and adverse drug effects.

    Contemporary hospital pharmacy practice is composed of a number of highly specialized areas, including nuclear pharmacy, drug and poison information, and intravenous therapy. In addition, pharmacists provide clinical services in adult medicine, pediatrics, oncology, ambulatory care, and psychiatry. The nature and size of the hospital helps to determine the extent to which these specific services are needed. Because of the diversity of activities involved in pharmacy departments, there is also demand for management expertise, including finance and budgeting, personnel administration, systems development, and planning. As hospital pharmacists continue to become more involved in providing patient-oriented services, the demand for practitioners in this area of pharmacy continues to grow.

Drug Utilization Review/Drug Use Evaluation

    Pharmacists review drug utilization to determine which patients and prescribers are using particular medications. This allows the pharmacist to determine whether some drugs are inappropriately prescribed or used. With this knowledge in hand, the pharmacist and other care providers can then actively intervene in the patient's care process to assure better outcomes.

The Pharmaceutical Industry

    Another career option in pharmacy is represented by the pharmaceutical industry that produces chemicals, prescription and nonprescription drugs, and other health products. Pharmacists are engaged in careers such as marketing, research and product development, quality control, sales, and administration. Many pharmacists go on to obtain postgraduate degrees in order to meet the technical demands and scientific duties required in pharmaceutical manufacturing. Pharmacists with an interest in sales and administration can combine this with their technical background in pharmacy by serving as medical service representatives. These representatives call on a variety of health care professionals to explain the uses and merits of the products their firms produce. Experienced and successful medical service representatives with administrative abilities often rise to supervisory or executive posts in the pharmaceutical industry. Pharmacists are also employed as sales representatives, supervisors, and administrators in wholesale drug firms.

Academic Pharmacy

    Many pharmacy-trained faculty members work in the nation's schools of pharmacy. They are involved with teaching, research, public service, and patient care. Others serve as consultants for local, provincial, national, and international organizations. Becoming a member of the faculty at a school of pharmacy usually requires a postgraduate degree and/or training (e.g., PharmD, PhD degree, or residency or fellowship training following the professional degree program). There currently exists a shortage of faculty, creating an array of excellent professional opportunities.

    Pharmacy practice faculty members have significant responsibility for patient care, in addition to their work in teaching and research. These academicians often are called educator/practitioners, and they serve as role models for pharmacy students and residents in many education/practice settings. Faculty members in disciplines other than pharmacy practice are usually involved in pharmaceutical sciences research. The pharmaceutical scientists are mainly concerned with research that includes sophisticated instrumentation, analytical methods, and animal models that study all aspects of drugs and drug products. Moreover, social, economic, and behavioral science research often uses survey methods and statistical analyses to solve complex problems of drug utilization management, health care delivery, marketing, management, and other practice issues. To paraphrase one current pharmacy faculty member, "Perhaps no other job in pharmacy has such far-reaching effects on the profession as that of an educator. It is in academia that one can excite individuals about pharmacy and lay the groundwork for continuing advances in the field."

Other Fields in Pharmacy

    Pharmacists use their basic educational backgrounds in a host of federal, provincial, and professional positions.

    At the federal level, pharmacists hold staff and supervisory posts in:

    • Health Canada,

    • in all branches of the armed services,

    • many other agencies.

    At the provincial level there are agencies charged with regulating the practice of pharmacy to preserve and protect the public health. These legal boards governing pharmacy practice usually have pharmacists employed as full-time executive officers and inspectors. All provinces have an active pharmacy association that employs a full-time executive officer, usually a graduate of a school of pharmacy.

    Several national professional associations are also guided by pharmacists with an interest and specialized knowledge of organizational work. You may know other pharmacists who are engaged in highly specialized tasks. There are pharmacists in advertising, packaging, technical writing, magazine editing, and science reporting. There are pharmacists with legal training serving as patent lawyers or as experts in pharmaceutical law.

    By now, it should be clear to you that the diversity of pharmacy is one of its chief strengths. And, in diversity lies your opportunity. In Canada, the vast majority of pharmacists practice in community or hospital pharmacies, or long-term and ambulatory care facilities. The remaining pharmacists follow one or another of the special fields you have just reviewed. The opportunity for success in any of these fields is wide open for men and women with ability, education, and imagination.

    †Excerpted with edits from a booklet entitled "Shall I study Pharmacy?" published by the American Association of the Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP).

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